Enough with this season and the recent barrage of award ceremonies. Let's talk about something else -- say, next season, the autumn of which is shaping up nicely, with the usual mix of new and old musicals, American and British plays. Perhaps the most interesting news to emerge this week was the possibility that the Encores! concert production of Wonderful Town might have a life on Broadway. As first reported on Playbill On-Line on May 17, a group of producers, including Anita Waxman and Elizabeth Williams, are exploring the idea of giving the Leonard Bernstein-Adolph Green-Betty Comden show its first major Broadway revival. The show would bow in November and most likely feature Laura Benanti and Donna Murphy repeating their performances as Eileen and Ruth, respectively. (Indeed, the involvement of Murphy, who received thunderous notices, would seem critical to the project.) Wonderful Town is the first Encores! show since Chicago to show any signs of an extended life beyond the concert series' typical four-performance weekend run.
Another revival -- this one from London -- is moving full speed ahead. That is Oklahoma!, the acclaimed Royal National Theatre version by director Trevor Nunn and Susan Stroman that was sent back to England by Actors' Equity a couple years back when Nunn tried to fly over the British cast intact. Producer Cameron Mackintosh seems to have learned his lesson and Nunn and Stroman are now preparing to cast the show from Yankee talent pools. Stroman, who told PBOL the show would arrive in November, was allowed to throw out Agnes DeMille's famous footwork when she choreographed Oklahoma!. Her work on the musical pre-dates Contact and The Music Man and many consider her first act ballet in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic the wellspring of her current professional renaissance. No theatre has been selected for Oklahoma!, but the Gershwin -- the production team's original choice -- is likely.
Another musical set for the fall is Jane Eyre, due at the Brooks Atkinson on Nov. 8. The show, based on Charlotte Bronte's novel, has been bounding around the continent for what seems like forever. The Paul Gordon-John Caird show first bowed at the Wichita Center for the Performing Arts in December 1995, and in late 1996 was seen at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, with Anthony Crivello as Rochester. It was promised for Broadway in 1998, then for Tennessee Repertory Theatre; neither production materialized. Jane Eyre finally showed up at the La Jolla Playhouse in summer 1999, where it proved a hit. The Broadway version will bring with it La Jolla performers James Barbour, Marla Schaffel, and Mary Stout, under the direction of Caird and Scott Schwartz.
And what would a Broadway season be without a few imported British plays for the locals to carp about? The first entry in 2000-2001 will probably be the latest from playwright Conor McPherson, Dublin Carol. Discussions are currently underway to bring the three-hander to Broadway, with original director Ian Rickson and original star Brian Cox. David Richenthal would produce.
The above shows are all in addition to Charles Busch's The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, the National Actors Theatre's Judgment at Nuremberg and the new musicals Seussical and The Visit, already announced for Broadway's fall and winter. There will be room enough for all these incoming attractions eventually. Many of the current shows -- Rose, The Real Thing, Moon for the Misbegotten -- were always intended as limited runs. And the O'Neill Theatre will be free beginning May 28: Waiting in the Wings announced its closing date. There's a lot happening just north of New York City, too, at the Westport Country Playhouse. The 70-year-old institution has seen some important actors and exciting productions in its history, but the last several years have not been among its most stellar. That seems to be changing with Joanne Woodward assuming the role of co- director. Suddenly, the Playhouse's summer season has Jayne Atkinson and Jeffrey Jones in David Wiltse's Triangles for Two; John Cunningham in Morphic Resonance by Katherine Burger, directed by James Naughton; and a pre-NYC production of Austin Pendleton's hot new play, Orson's Shadow. And the Playhouse's production of A.R. Gurney's Ancestral Voices has a hotter cast than did any of the original Lincoln Center Theater configurations. The first week will feature Jason Robards, Jane Curtin, Scott Wolf and Frank Converse; and second week Paul Newman, Naughton, Swoosie Kurtz and Paul Rudd.
All right, a little talk of awards before concluding. The Real Thing, Kiss Me, Kate, Copenhagen and Contact were the big winners at the Drama Desk Awards on May 14, and it seems likely we'll hear those four names again come June 4. As for surprises, Heather Headley won over Rebecca Luker and Marin Mazzie for best actress in a musical, and Karen Ziemba beat out Eartha Kitt for best featured actress in a musical. The Drama Desk probably had its biggest impact, however, by awarding two trophies to Charlie Victor Romeo, the tiny Off-Off-Broadway play which depicts the cockpit dramas behind airplane crashes.
The Obie Awards came one day after the Drama Desk Awards, and, as usual, the awards committee did an excellent job as showing us critics and reporters exactly how much theatre we hadn't seen. The most noteworthy award of the ceremony went to British playwright Harley Granville Barker, for writing Waste, which received its American premiere this spring, roughly 100 years after it was written. Of course, Barker has been dead these fifty or so years. But as the Theatre for a New Audience staging proved, the play is more than alive.
--By Robert Simonson